Mile-high ranch hosts farm-to-table feasts

A new farm-to-table dinner series has met with such success that an auxiliary program was added at Jackson County’s mile-high ranch.

Willow-Witt Ranch is only about 10 miles from Ashland’s outskirts, but the trip is a steep climb into the Cascade foothills via Dead Indian Memorial and Shale City roads. Owners Suzanne Willow and Lanita Witt have long wanted to host dinners using their farm goods and decided to build on a new partnership with Farm to Fork.

“This is literally going to be out in our pasture,” says Willow. “We think it’s the most beautiful place in the world.”

The first three-course dinner for about 30 people is scheduled for Saturday, July 10. Priced at $35 per person, $45 with wine pairing, the dinners represent another, lower-cost opportunity to experience the concept of Farm to Fork, which has sold out its $60-per-person events more than two months in advance. There are still seats available for its Sept. 11 feast, featuring Willow-Witt’s pork and Blackberry Lane produce at the latter’s Grants Pass property.

As explained in a recent A la Carte story and Oregon Healthy Living magazine piece, Farm to Fork is going beyond farm-fresh foods by bringing diners to the farms themselves to fully understand and appreciate the meal’s origins. The team of chefs Matthew Domingo and Kristen Lyon with local food advocates Sascha Meier and Lori Campbell is expanding Farm to Fork to a catering operation that plans to serve local cuisine for galas at area wineries, including Agate Ridge and Weisinger’s.

If you purchase tickets for any of Farm to Fork’s endeavors, don’t expect to inspect the menu far in advance. The point of using ingredients straight from the farm is that the chefs rely on nature to do much of the work. That means ingredients are highly seasonal and unpredictable even up to the week before.

“That’s the fun part … it’s very improvisational,” says Domingo.

Saturday’s much-anticipated dinner at Medford’s Dunbar Farms matched its wheat berries, heirloom shell beans, rainbow chard and even overwintered squash with Rogue Valley Brambles chicken. SunStone Artisan Bakery made shortcakes from Dunbar’s own hand-milled pastry flour. The property’s Rocky Knoll vineyard and neighboring RoxyAnn Winery supplied wine.

Willow-Witt has less in the way of produce, mostly salad greens and rhubarb, so some fruits and vegetables will have to be obtained off site, says Willow. But eggs and goat milk are in good supply. Certified-organic, pasture-raised pork is the featured protein.

The ranch plans to host dinners monthly through October. August is a prime time to serve goat meat, also known as chevon, says Willow. September likely will be an Oktoberfest theme with Willow-Witt’s custom pork and goat sausages and homemade sauerkraut, she adds. October will be a harvest celebration.

Fifteen to 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the valley, Willow-Witt would be an ideal spot for outdoor dining once the valley heats up. Farm tours begin at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m. Call 541-890-1998 for reservations.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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